"I don't battle anymore! I uplift motherfuckers!" - GZA
Sunday, February 15, 2009,1:26 AM
Riffing On Race
In their latest book, the multiracial maniacally funny guys of the defunct hip-hop magazine ego trip turn their smart-ass, studiously well-informed attention to the subject of race.

With the disclaimer that "we just hate everybody," the book is a reference guide of sorts, crammed with lists, trivia, rants, and parodies. Together, they make a hilarious and occasionally insightful commentary on race and racism in culture, media, current events, and entertainment, with sometimes silly ("the hidden hate in Wite Out") and sometimes biting ("10 Popular Films in Which Middle Easterners Must Die in Order for the Good Guys to Win") results.

Have you ever been guilty of racial/ethnic stereotyping of certain groups-if so, which ones and why?

BRENT ROLLINS: This country was built on two things: competitiveness and racism--how can you not be prejudiced? Even blacks who talk a lot about white-man-this and white-man-that, go and turn around and treat some other struggling group like basura, sometimes. That's pretty hypocritical. People think that once they've established themselves, their little piece of the pie is sacred and no one can touch it, instead of realizing that we can always bake more pies.

JEFFERSON MAO Asians are constantly embarrassed or coming to grips with the stereotypes of our own behavior. When I watch the kids version of Jeopardy, I see the little Asian kid killing the math and science categories and then, when its time for "Final Jeopardy," he calculates and bets just enough to win the whole thing by a dollar. I'm both proud and horrifired.

What do you think of the contradictions of race in American culture today compared 'with those of previous decades?

GABE ALVAREZ People are so far removed from history it boggles the mind. How a white person can feel totally comfortable saying the n-word as a term of endearment is nuts! My feeling is that white people can't stand being told what they can and can't do.

The difference between those signs at restaurants that stated: "No Negroes, No Mexicans, No Dogs" as recently as the 1950s, and trying to figure out what happened with the last presidential election--where scores of black voters in Florida were kept from the polls through various devious means-comes down to what's worse: being obviously discriminated against? Or being opressed in manners that you have to dig beneath the surface to see?

BRENT ROLLINS: The '70s were great. GREAT. You had open dialogue and acknowledgement of other races and ethnicities--like the "You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's bread" ad campaigns--showing black kids, Chinese, and Native Indian men eating Jewish rye bread. Who would have the balls to do advertising like that now? In our book we have a spread entitled "Whatever happened to?" which lists all these kind of "forgotten" racial pop-ephemera and terminology. It just sort of illustrates how American culture sort of neutralizes race.

What might the more recent immigrant groups do well to understand and be prepared to confront while in the U.S., in terms of race and how it's determined/experienced here?

SACHA JENKINS: They must understand that, at the airports, anyone who is a shade darker than J-Lo (hey, she's white now...ask her sexy hubby) will be detained and derailed and then told to have a nice day--and that that is their patriotic duty, this detention.

And they should ask: how come every time a boat load of Haitians arrives on American soil, looking for a better way...the Haitians are sent to detention camps while their Cuban hermanos often find warm soup and a nice firm bed waiting for them, just inches away from South Beach?

What aspects of race and racism do you take on in the book and how would you describe your approach?

GABE ALVAREZ: We tackle everything with humor, in a way that only non-white people could--and as the comedic greats like Richard Pryor proved, the best humor is based on truth. The book's info is presented in bite-sizes, and there's plenty of silly shit in it--but we were fully aware of all the jokes we were making, even the more offensive ones.

BRENT ROLLINS: Our approach is a blender. Throw it in there and watch it spin around. The entire concept of punk rock and hip-hop is central to our process.

While you have to be already a little predisposed to this topic to even think about picking up a book with the title Big Book of Racism, even those people are going to have preconceptions about how the topic of race should be presented. The intelligentsia and other people who write books spend too much time talking to themselves, but don't affect change. I respect anyone who devotes their lives to this race-shit, but really... who has more impact on shaping American culture--Cornel West or [pro wrestling star] The Rock?

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posted by R J Noriega
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